When invisible illnesses become visible.

I have two blood clots in my right arm. The one is superficial and the other is a Deep Vein Thrombosis. Both are from the PICC line that fed me nutrients while I was in the hospital, unable to eat as a result of my Crohn’s flare. A PICC line is a long tube that is inserted into the bicep and runs about eight inches through a vein towards the chest. The line can be used for nutrients (called a TPN, which is basically just the vital nutrition that the body needs to survive) and it can be used for infusions or drawing blood from for labs. They are awesome and a pain in the ass at the same time — I didn’t have to get stuck with needles every day, but I had three little portals sticking out of my arm, hooking me up to machines for almost two weeks. Having one creates a risk of a developing clots, and having Crohn’s puts me at risk anyway.

The clots were discovered two weeks after my release from the hospital, but it’s evident that it began before. The line wasn’t drawing blood, but was allowing infusions to push through. When I was up at the Mayo Clinic after, I received an infusion of Reclast (a once per year medicine used to help people with osteoporosis rebuild their bone density). Later that night, the pain in my arm began. The next morning, I couldn’t lift my right arm beyond shoulder height. Off to the ER we went.

I’ve had blood clots before, both times in my legs, so I know what to look for on an ultrasound when the tech is scanning my body. The ultrasound tech isn’t necessarily supposed to tell the patient what they find — that is for the doctor to do — but it’s hard to deny when the patient knows what to look for. The tech was a tall, red-headed beautiful woman with a straight face, but from years of experience of keeping patients occupied and avoiding awkward silences, she developed the gift of gab. We talked a mile a minute while she looked at the screen, all the while running the scanner down my right arm, pressing every couple of centimeters on the vein to see if it would collapse. I watched the screen too, knowing to look for a little black pebble in the vein that when pressed, wouldn’t budge. I found two. Each time she got to them, I said, “There’s one. Superficial or DVT?” She side-smiled and pretended that I didn’t say that.

I spent that night in the hospital under observation just in case the one clot dislodged and went to my lungs (which is called a pulmonary embolism, and if untreated, the lungs fill up with fluid and it causes the patient to drown from the inside. It is a horrific sight and with all of my heart I hope you never have to see it in person, because I have). The doctors put me on Warfarin, a blood thinner given pill form, and Lovenox, a daily shot that hurts like a mofo (sorry, that’s literally the only word that is appropriate to describe the sting of Lovenox). I’ll be on blood thinners for the next several months. In that time, I will bruise like a peach.

Last Friday night, I was admitted into the hospital again. I don’t have great veins for needles — they are small and like to hide — so the nurses often draw blood from the vein on the top of my hand because it’s the easiest to deal with. The first nurse came in and drew blood from the regular spot, but didn’t set up an IV there, so the second nurse had to set up the IV in a different vein in my arm. Since I’m on blood thinners, both areas immediately swelled and turned black and blue. It’s now five days later, and the bruises on my arm and hand are still swollen, but luckily not as black and yellow as they were even yesterday. Every day it gets a little bit better.

Living with Crohn’s has sorted me into a company of others that live with what we call “invisible illnesses.” These are illnesses that others usually cannot observe just by looking at us. Those who live with these kinds of illnesses have faulty immune systems that attack the body, treating parts of it like it’s a bacteria that needs to be rid of. Sometimes, some of us need a wheelchair because of it. Or a cane. But not all the time. Some days, my arthritis acts and I can’t walk without my cane. The next day, I get around okay — my illness is then invisible again.

A bruise is a a benign issue. I couldn’t care less about much than I care about having a few bruises on my arms and hands — compared to what I’ve lived through, a bruise is less annoying than a blackhead on the inside of my ear that I don’t even know is there. The thing is, when someone points out the blackhead, all of a sudden… it’s there.

For the last five days when I’ve gone out in public, I’ve watched eyes wander to my arms. If I’m with my husband, the eyes start at my arm, and end up on him — a devastatingly handsome, muscular, scruffy man with a bandana and a cut off shirt. If I’m alone, the eyes go from my arm, quickly to my face, and then avert. It’s embarrassing. It makes me want to pull down the sleeves that I don’t have on the shirt I shouldn’t have worn and hide.

But these bruises, these are my trophies. My battle scars. My time in the ring with the Russian, taking beating after beating, but in the end, taking that hulking son of a bitch down in true Rocky the underdog Italian Stallion form.

I don’t expect people not to look. We all look when we see something out of the ordinary. What I do expect, though, is that we all agree to maintain dignified curiosity instead of shameful judgment.

If there’s anything we can do for each other in this life, it is that.

bruised but not broken

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